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Tuesday 21 August 2012

Am I supposed to clap?

This is a blog about serial yo yo dieting.  Not a blog about those who lose weight for medical/psychological reasons.  Parents don't cause eating disorders.

"I've lost 10 lbs.  I've been on this marvellous new protein/low carb/grapefruit/wasp-sting extract/shark tooth/stinging nettle soup/ diet."

Cue Oohs and Ahhs.

Call me a cynic but as I get nearer to 50, I have begun to observe that it is the same women (6 or 7 of them) who have lost the same 10-15lbs about 4 times in the last 15 - 20 years.  Each time, they vow that they will keep it off this time and each time, inevitably, they don't.

  1. What were you like to live with when you on this diet?  Were you fun?  Were you happy?  Did you go out and enjoy a coffee with your friends?  Eat fish and chips on the beach with your children? Share a bottle of wine with your husband? Or did you become pinched, irritable, obsessive, grumpy?  Did you spend your time crunching your abs and measuring your seaweed extract, rather than playing with the children, talking with your teenagers, chatting with your husband, living your life?
  2. Last time you lost this same 10 lbs, did you life change immeasurably for the better?  Did you get a new job? A pay rise? Win the lottery? Get a new lover? Realise your life's ambition to swim with Daniel Craig?
  3. No? Do you think your life is going to change this time?  How?
  4. What are you going to do with this particular set of new clothes you have bought to celebrate losing weight?  Charity shop?  Ebay, like last time?  Or are they going to sit, gathering dust and mournfully guilting you every time you open your cupboard?  Are they going to tempt you to slim into them again?
  5. How long does the euphoria last?  A week?  A month?  Is the admiration worth it?  Really?  From a load of superficial acquaintances for losing weight?  Have you nothing better to do with your talents, your education, your interests?
  6. Do you REALLY think that appearances matter that much?
  7. Are you REALLY doing this for yourself?
  8. Do you know what a hamster wheel is?
  9. When are you going to learn?
Diets don't work.  There is science to prove it.

The diet companies are, in the main, owned by the big food companies.  You are buying into a complete snake oil myth by going on a diet.  You are, in fact, a complete mug.

However, what you are also doing is setting up your own children and other children, for a life time of low self-esteem, dissatisfaction and disordered eating.  You are putting your children's and your children's children lives at risk.  At a tender, vulnerable, innocent time of their lives, they are going to look for role models.  In our day, wanting to look like a model in a magazine was almost attainable.  Nowadays, it is not.  There is no pictures that haven't been photoshopped.  What is displayed day after day, week after week, month after month in newspapers, magazines, TV and billboards is NOT REAL.  So your children (boys and girls) are growing up with the expectation that they should look like something that is unattainable.   Literally.  Whether this leads to an eating disorder or not is immaterial.  For the other 95% of children, you are setting them up for a fall.

(Vogue January 2011)                                    Vogue (June 1985)

Your children grow up with the idea that, if they are thin, life will be better, because YOU tell them that.  Directly and indirectly.  Every day.  YOU demonstrate to them time after time that YOU believe that life will be better if you're thinner, when it is evident that nothing changes.  They believe that diets will work, because YOU believe that, despite the evidence to the contrary.  They believe that your unhappiness, your dissatisfaction, your low self-esteem is based entirely on the way YOU look, because that's what YOU believe.  YOU are modelling a life time of misery and superficiality based on physical appearance.

If nothing else persuades you, let this.  This is what you are condemning your children to:

"Repeatedly losing and gaining weight has been linked, in previous studies, to cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and altered immune function"

So you won't get an Oooh or an Ahh from me.  You won't compliments or admiring glances.  NOT because I am jealous (see blog below) or admire your self-control or dedication.  NOT because I wish I could lose 10lbs.  NOT because I work as an advocate for parents of children with eating disorders.  In fact, NOT because of anything to do with eating disorders at all.

I hate to see people being taken for a ride, defrauded, duped, deceived, tricked  time and time again and, quite frankly, after 4 times, this conversation is beginning to feel like a Groundhog Day experience.

Try reframing.  What if you could put the energy and enthusiasm that you expend into measuring your snake oil into something more worth while?  What if only you spent a quarter of your snake oil money on sponsoring a dog, or giving a goat to a village in Africa or buying a round in the pub?  What if you stopped judging yourself on purely physical criteria?  What if you could stop destroying your children's self-esteem?  What if you got off the hamster wheel and pulled the wool from your eyes and stopped believing a clever, manipulative marketing claim?  What if you just stopped trying to please other women who really don't care?  What if you just stopped wasting your life?  

Written for Becky Henry of the Hope Network.  A free pair of Big Girls Pants every time you say it.


  1. Please miss, may I print this out to place prominently on the staffroom wall?

  2. Be my guest. How about giving it to every member of staff who has ever tried to engage you in a conversation about their weight or diet? Come to think of it, you could include your friends, family, random strangers in the pub, supermarket check out girls, parents of your children's friends, your GP, your dentist, your local Parish Council, Rotary Club, any celebrity who comes your way on holiday, festival goers, campers, tourists?

    World domination complex coming on. xx

  3. Hi, this is interesting, but it does seem quite harsh from someone who has consistently argued parents are not to blame for children's eating disorders. I have spent years being slightly overweight and hating it. When I finally took some control back and lost weight through a healthy sensible eating regime, it then turned out my daughter has anorexia and is now in hospital. I entirely blamed myself, for being overweight and miserable in the first place and then losing weight. Reading About the Maudsley method and organisations like FEAST made me think differently but this post now makes me think I have

  4. Setting up a lifetime of disordered eating? A lifetime of low self esteem. Condemning them to health problems. Destroying their self esteem. Because I lost weight. Interesting no blame model. Thanks

  5. Oh, and thanks for the "putting my children and childrens children lives at risk" comment too. That helped a lot as well

  6. Fair points and both well made, Anonymi.


    There is a bit difference between an eating disorder (biologically based brain disorder with genetic/hertiability component) and disordered eating. Sometimes, disordered eating can lead to an eating disorder. In the majority (93% ish) of cases, disordered eating is just that - unhealthy and disordered eating.

    There is no evidence to prove that parents cause eating disorders. Environmental factors do, of course, play a part. However to blame yourself for taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally, by losing weight and helping your self esteem in the process for your daughter's eating disorder is a mighty leap. There is no evidence, despite millions being spent on research over the last 30 years, that proves any kind of correlation. You DID NOT CAUSE IT. Blaming one environmental factor as a trigger is a hiding to nothing. Sure, some people develop an eating disorder after abuse or rape or some other trauma. That is a given. However, others who suffer the same trauma do not develop an eating disorder. It is therefore difficult to argue that "just" trauma causes an eating disorder. You should also take into account personality traits, sensitivity, receptiveness to other environmental triggers, self-esteem, etc.

    There is a big difference between a "healthy and sensible" eating regime and the extreme yo yo dieting that I am talking about here. Losing weight for medical reasons, or losing weight once or twice over a lifetime is a radically different thing from going on one diet after another and gaining and losing the same 10lbs over a 15 year period.

    As I have said in the blog, this is not about eating disorders. This is about societal pressures to be thin. This is about a general malaise that affects are society at every level. This is about being kind to yourself and having a healthy relationship with food. This is not about blame. This is not about eating disorders.

    I have obviously not made it clear that I am not talking about one off weight loss - I shall amend the blog forthwith.

    I am sorry that I have made you feel this way.

  7. Thank you, I do feel better now. FEAST has helped me so much and I was taken aback by this, but I think that says more about the blameworm in my mothers brain which leaps at any trigger. But I was a yo yo dieter too, until I found a healthy eating regime that worked. And I do now cringe/rage at all food talk whether weight loss, or ooh, look at me eating cake, how naughty am I.

  8. I love the blame worm thing. That is just a brilliant expression, which I shall steal from time to time, if that's ok?

    Look, we all do stuff that we regret and as a parent, I am forever doing the "if only" stuff. It is part of being a human being and an even bigger part of being a parent. It is natural. However, if only it were as simple as my relationship with food that caused my daughter's eating disorder!



  9. I think of disordered eating as something that society has mistakenly considered normal, even healthy. How on earth could a parent know that dieting is unhealthy when the whole world is telling them the opposite? I don't blame parents for not knowing this, but now that I know I'm flapping my arms wildly to spread the word.

    The relationship between disordered eating and an eating disorder is interesting. We don't really know if one triggers the other, but many of us suspect it. But if so, then it is more like giving a child something you don't know they are allergic to - and were led to believe was healthy. I think it is also probable that people with an ED predisposition are going to find disordered eating whether we model it for them or not. A flu, a track season, a college rooomate on a diet, or a chance Weight Watcher's commercial....

    We parents do need to spread the word on the futility and potential dangers (oh, and silliness) of dieting. We do have to recognize that dieting may put our loved ones at risk of mental illness if they have that predisposition. But we don't need to waste any energy in blaming ourselves for being normal people and normal parents when our kids get ill.